Women Cinephiles: Let’s Make Nicole Holofcener a Household Name

By
Share:

Nicole Holofcener’s new film, Enough Said, opened this week in LA and New York, and all of you should be running, not walking, to see it. It stars James Gandolfini, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and, yeah, Tavi Gevinson! Also, it’s great! Those are three good reasons to see it. But mostly you should see it because the world doesn’t have enough Nicole Holofcener films in it, and the only way to rectify that is for women to start throwing their economic weight behind her work. Holofcener is not a household name, and that’s a terrible thing. You may have heard of her films here and there along the way — Walking and Talking, Lovely and Amazing, Friends With Money, Please Give — because they tend to have a marquee name in the cast, usually the wonderful Catherine Keener. (Jennifer Aniston, Frances McDormand, and now Julia Louis-Dreyfus are also in the fold.) But overall she’s described, like many a female literary novelist, as someone who works “small,” which for some reason in this debased culture means her work is seen as lacking ambition. Her visual aesthetic is not as stylized (some might say self-important) as a Wes Anderson’s or Spike Jonze’s, sure. But just as we need Alice Munro as much as we need David Foster Wallace in literary culture, film would be missing something if it excluded the simple storytelling that Holofcener excels at.

It’s unavoidable that there is a certain familiar narrowness to the worlds she likes to cover. Holofcener’s specialty is the inner lives of white, and frequently class-privileged women. As A.O. Scott put it in his Enough Said review, her primary subject is “the manners and morals of the self-satisfied metropolitan middle class.” Friends With Money highlighted the class distinctions that can nonetheless arise in that demographic — Aniston, in that film, plays a teacher-turned-housekeeper who isn’t quite in the same place as her more established friends — but overall we aren’t really talking about a wide spectrum of experience. We’re talking about a set that often gets reduced to an Eat, Pray, Love-ish demographic in the most cartoonish sense of the stereotype.

But it is Holofcener’s particular gift that she can draw richness from a small slice of life so readily susceptible to caricature. In another kind of movie than Walking and Talking, Anne Heche’s character would be a self-absorbed, self-satisfied Bridezilla; instead, like most women, she’s both ambivalent and excited about marriage. In another kind of movie than Lovely and Amazing, Brenda Blethyn’s adoption of a ten-year-old African-American child played by Raven Goodwin would be played broadly, an opportunity for a Big Lesson for the white woman in the center of the frame. Instead, Goodwin’s character is the most memorable and well-rounded in the entire film. In Friends With Money, Frances McDormand’s angry, perimenopausal Jane is a prototype of the kind of “unlikable” female protagonist that Emily Nussbaum described, earlier this year, as the new hot thing on television, with her hummingbird theory. (It’s no accident that Holofcener also directed episodes of both Parks and Recreation and Enlightened, which Nussbaum names as exemplifying the hummingbird genre.)

The depth Holofcener gives her characters might seem such a small thing, a requirement of any good director. But it’s no news that most characters in film today, particularly in sweeping Hollywood dramas but also in the kind of stylized indie Anderson or Jonze produce, complicated inner universes are not a priority. In part, that’s because the industry is crass. It’s also because making a movie about the way people actually feel is really, really hard. It’s easy to blow something up and get people to come see it. It’s a lot harder to build people who look like ones you actually know, and make a good movie out of it. Holofcener knows how to do that; let’s get to a place where people are going to give her more money and time and respect to get it done. In sum, again: run, don’t walk, to Enough Said this weekend.